Suspicions Raised Over Plan to Expand Livermore Airport

Thursday, September 9, 2004
Critics remain wary of airport panel
Suspicions raised over plan to expand Livermore airport
By Matt Carter
The Tri-Valley (CA) Herald

LIVERMORE — Critics of a proposal to expand Livermore Municipal Airport remain suspicious of an advisory committee formed in April to hear their concerns.

The committee, which is scheduled to hold six hearings before presenting its recommendations to the Livermore City Council in January, includes representatives of neighborhoods near the airport and from the cities of Dublin and Pleasanton. But one Livermore resident who spoke Wednesday at the committee’s third meeting called the process the “sell the (airport) expansion to the public hearings.”

Pleasanton’s representatives also were rebuffed in an attempt to have the hearings suspended for a more extensive study of the environmental impacts of expanding the airport.

But the Airport Master Plan Advisory Committee’s co-chairs — Livermore City Councilwoman Lorraine Dietrich and Livermore Chamber of Commerce board member Cecil Brewer — were determined to keep the process moving.

A draft plan for expanding the airport calls for adding 1,300 feet to the smaller of the airport’s two runways, and building more than 1 million square feet of hangar space and 108,000 square feet of office space.

The expansion, which backers say is needed to handle increased demand, would allow up to 370,000 flights in and out of the airport by 2020, compared to 257,500 in 2001.

In April, Livermore officials were preparing to approve a study that concluded the potential impacts of the airport expansion — including as many as 1,525 additional car trips a day — could be “mitigated” or lessened enough that they would not be significant.

On April 19, the Livermore City Council instead decided to form the advisory committee, after Pleasanton officials drafted a strongly worded letter urging Livermore to conduct a more extensive study known as an Environmental Impact Report.

At Wednesday’s meeting, representatives of the consulting firm that prepared an initial study, concluding an EIR was not necessary, explained their findings.

Judith Malamut and David Clore of LSA Associates Inc. said that they were required to measure potential impacts such as increased noise, traffic and pollution levels against “thresholds” developed by government agencies.

That means that while some residents might find projected increases in impacts like noise objectionable, many impacts aren’t considered significant enough to require “mitigation” under California’s environmental laws.

“I would never disagree with someone who told me noise in their neighborhood is noticeable and a problem for them,” Clore said.

Some members of the advisory committee said studies of the airport expansion don’t take into account potential benefits, such as reductions in car traffic at other airports.

Clore noted that elected officials typically take broader policy issues into consideration when deciding to approve a project, and don’t rely solely on environmental studies.

Many residents are particularly concerned about the potential noise from as many as 18,500 private jet flights a year by 2020. Backers of the airport expansion say that figure — like the potential for 370,000 total annual flights — probably overestimate what actual traffic will be.

But critics say noise studies used to support the airport expansion use average noise levels, and ignore “single event” occurrences such as flights by low-flying jets.

“We probably haven’t even begun to talk about noise, and I think that is why a lot of people are here now,” said David Froio, representing Dublin.

Froio criticized a proposal to insulate 82 homes in west Livermore by equipping them with air conditioning.

“You can mitigate the noise taking place inside someone’s home, but not … in their back yard,” Froio said.

Pleasanton resident Bill Caldwell brought a noise meter and a portable stereo to Wednesday’s meeting, and played a recording of a jet taking off.

Brewer objected, saying Caldwell’s three minutes were up. Many in a crowd of about 70 attending the meeting protested loudly, and Caldwell was allowed to play the recording.

Pleasanton’s representatives on the committee — Tom Hagen and Councilwoman Jennifer Hosterman — were less successful in their attempt to steer the meeting.

Both asked that the committee vote immediately on issuing a recommendation to the Livermore City Council to suspend the hearings and conduct an Environmental Impact Report.

Dietrich and Brewer refused to recognize what Hosterman claimed was a motion and a second on the motion to hold a vote.

“Jennifer thank you, you are not recognized,” Brewer said.

The committee’s co-chairs want it to hold all six meetings as originally intended when it was formed.

The committee is scheduled to hold three more meetings — on Oct. 13, Nov. 10, and Dec. 1. On Dec. 1, the committee will finalize its findings and recommendations, which will be presented to the Livermore City Council in January.